You wake up one morning and head to the bathroom because something just doesn’t feel, look or smell right. Something is off. You immediately start to panic.
Thoughts come flooding into your mind like, “Oh my gosh, that son of a bitch cheated on me and gave me an STD,” “I should have never slept with that guy a month ago” or “Jesus, now I have X, Y or Z. What if I die from this? Can I die from this?”
Before you have a full-on panic attack and end up in the emergency room, take a deep breath and call your doctor to make an appointment. A lot of the time, people are sure they have a STD, but they actually do not.
Here are the six most common things that might look like STDs, but actually aren’t:
1. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
We all naturally have good bacteria and bad bacteria in our vaginas. When the pH balance of our vagina is off-balance, which may occur for many reasons, bad bacteria can outgrow the good bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis produces a discharge with a fishlike odor, and it can be accompanied with some mild irritation.
2. Candidiasis (Yeast Infection)
Also caused by an imbalance of your vaginal pH, yeast infections are actually a lot less common than BV. They tend to cause clumpy, cottage cheese-like (sorry if that was part of your high-protein breakfast) discharge that is usually odorless. It can also just cause irritation, burning and itching without the discharge.
3. Folliculitis (Razor Burn)
I cannot tell you how many people I’ve seen in my office who are convinced they have herpes, when all they have is a bad case of razor burn. Symptoms of folliculitis include redness, stinging and bumps. These are the exact same symptoms you will find if you google “herpes.”
This type of irritation after hair removal isn’t specific to shaving. I have also seen it after waxing and over-the-counter depilatory products such as Nair.
4. Epidermoid Cysts
These are small, painless bumps that can occur on the skin of your vulva, and they are often mistaken for genital warts. Epidermoid cysts are usually made of keratin and fat. They are normally small, measuring about a few millimeters, but they can grow to be a few centimeters in size.
They are not harmful, but can be irritating or annoying, so people often want them removed. They should always be removed by a doctor.
This is plain old skin irritation. This can lead to redness, irritation, pain and itchiness that lasts more than a day or two. The skin “down there” can be sensitive and easily bothered. Common catalysts of dermatitis include laundry detergents, toilet paper, vaginal deodorants or sprays, sanitary pads and panty liners, bath soaps and shower gels, new underwear (especially lace) and latex in condoms.
6. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Common UTI symptoms include increased frequency of urination, burning with urination and smelly, cloudy urine. UTIs occur when bacteria that is naturally on your body (especially near your rectum) has relocated itself through movement into your urethra. Since it doesn’t belong there, it hurts like hell.
UTIs are easy to treat, but they definitely do need to be treated immediately. If left too long without treatment, the infection can actually make its way to your kidneys, which is a worst-case scenario.
So, as you can see, there are a variety of things that can go wrong in your vagina that have nothing to do with a sexually transmitted disease. A new sexual partner or a high volume sexual experience (i.e. binge sex) can predispose you to getting a yeast infection, BV, dermatitis and a UTI, further convincing you that you may have a STD.
With that said, if you ever have anything unusual going on with your vagina, contact your doctor. Make an appointment, and never self diagnose. Every time you have a new sexual partner, you should also contact your doctor for a full STD screen. Please, please always practice safe sex.